Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Advancing Safety in a Growing, Interconnected Fleet

Share this article:

The Story In Brief

Peter Prozesky is the CEO of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO), which works to maximize safety and reliability in the global nuclear fleet. Prozesky speaks with EPRI Journal about the importance of reporting and sharing experiences globally, peer reviews, building expertise in countries that are new to nuclear power, and adapting to new technologies.

Peter Prozesky
EJ: What are your top three insights during your first year as WANO’s CEO?

Prozesky: The first insight: It’s important for the global nuclear community to support knowledge transfer from experienced to new personnel in countries with new nuclear programs and at companies with rapidly expanding fleets. Organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and WANO need to engage with operators at the earliest stage—even before new plants are built. For IAEA, that can mean helping a country develop the necessary regulatory infrastructure. WANO needs to engage at various points as companies transition from construction and commissioning to safe, reliable operations.

A second insight relates to industry initiatives that began after Fukushima. While many have been completed or are well developed, some remain fragile. In a few countries, significant energy market pressures are weakening resolve to follow through with these interventions. WANO seeks to prioritize its resources to assist plants furthest away from excellence.

Third, plant operators and suppliers must responsibly introduce new digital control technologies by reporting, sharing, and discussing experiences during commissioning and operations.

EJ: What are your major objectives at WANO?

Prozesky: WANO’s members are plant owners and operators, and its main products and services are peer reviews, support missions, training and development, and performance analysis. After Fukushima, some industry stakeholders observed that programs were not being delivered consistently across all regions. In response, we’ve introduced an oversight role in our London office to drive standards and consistency globally. This process is well underway and is a primary objective during my tenure. Given the market pressures on our members, WANO must deliver these products and services efficiently.

Post-Fukushima, WANO has expanded its peer review program and now conducts reviews at plants every four years. Corporate peer reviews will happen every six years. We began providing the CEO of each WANO member with a confidential, numerical performance assessment following a peer review at one of its plants. This is intended to strengthen accountability among members, and I would like to see nuclear CEOs discussing these ratings with each other to drive a strong learning and improvement culture.

EJ: In the global nuclear fleet, an incident at one facility impacts facilities across the world. How does this interconnectedness inform WANO’s work?

Prozesky: WANO was founded on the idea that prompt reporting of serious events can prevent repeat occurrences, and our first program in 1989 was sharing of event information. All WANO members are required to report plant events following well-defined criteria. Our database of reported events is robust, but we still occasionally see ‘silent’ units that do not report any events in a year. We routinely assess the reporting culture and pursue improvements with these units.

When plant operators receive information on major events, they are responsible for applying lessons at their facilities. For example, WANO issues ‘Significant Operating Event Reports,’ which identify contributors to major events and recommend preventive measures. Implementation of these recommendations is mandatory and is evaluated during peer reviews at operational plants as well as at new units prior to fuel loading.

WANO is encouraging its members to work with vendors and construction companies to be more transparent about reporting events that occur during construction and commissioning. These can range from industrial safety events to technical challenges with components.

EJ: Global nuclear generation is expected to nearly double by 2040, with most of this growth occurring in developing countries. What is WANO’s strategy to support these countries’ efforts to build operational expertise, human resources, and a safety culture?

Prozesky: If announced expansion plans come to fruition, we will see a shift in the center of gravity of nuclear operations. The number of nuclear power countries has been relatively stable at about 30 for decades. This may grow by as much as 50% in the next two decades. The challenge is that many new entrant countries lack the infrastructure needed for a nuclear program.

WANO and IAEA are working together on this. Typically, IAEA is the first to get involved, helping a new entrant to assess and develop infrastructure. WANO usually gets involved when an operator is about to sign a contract for construction of a nuclear plant. WANO’s New Unit Assistance program has 17 customizable training modules covering topics such as safety culture and establishing corrective action programs.

We also conduct peer reviews at new units prior to the first fuel loading to assess safety decision-making and operational readiness. Our teams observe the new operations personnel in challenging simulated scenarios such as accident management. If shortcomings are identified, WANO will require remediation prior to the first fuel loading or reactor startup.

To meet the growing need for services, WANO has increased staff at all of its offices and is redistributing resources to provide stronger support for new entrant countries and new units.

The number of nuclear power countries has been relatively stable at about 30 for decades. This may grow by as much as 50% in the next two decades. The challenge is that many new entrant countries lack the infrastructure needed for a nuclear program.
EJ: How is WANO working with the nuclear supply chain?

Prozesky: We do not have any vendors or suppliers in our membership. Our influence is only indirect, through the organizations that purchase and operate the plants. We engage owners and operators early in plant contracting and construction, assisting them as they work with vendors. With emerging business models such as ‘Build-Own-Operate,’ WANO may need to engage more directly with companies in the supply chain. This is being assessed.

EJ: What do you see as the biggest challenges in advancing safety and reliability in the growing global nuclear fleet?

Prozesky: As mentioned previously, market pressures for nuclear plant owners and operators are a challenge. An imbalanced focus on cost reduction risks undermining equipment health and organizational resilience. When it is no longer possible to maintain safety and cost-effectiveness, retiring the plant is the only responsible decision.

The rapid expansion of nuclear fleets in certain parts of the world is straining their ability to build the required skills and experience in the workforce. In some cases, capacity building efforts have started too late.

Complacency continues to be a challenge. While the nuclear industry has made significant improvements over the past four decades, these have sometimes been in reaction to a large ‘wake-up call’ event. As the memory of Fukushima fades, the question remains—how can we maintain our culture of continuous improvement and prevent consequential events?

As the memory of Fukushima fades, the question remains—how can we maintain our culture of continuous improvement and prevent consequential events?
EJ: Small modular reactors are under construction or planned in countries such as China, Russia, and the United States. What are WANO’s plans for engaging small modular reactor operators and sharing their experience globally?

Prozesky: WANO’s products and services draw on the skills and experience of personnel who come from our members, but none of our current members operate small modular reactors. As the first small modular reactor in China approaches its pre-startup peer review, we have begun to build relevant skills in our staff. We are establishing industry working groups focused on specialized topics such as new entrants, and I envision that one of these groups will examine how WANO’s products and services need to be adapted for small modular reactors.

EJ: How does WANO plan to incorporate Generation IV reactors and other new reactor technologies into its programs?

Prozesky: As reactor technology changes, we will need to adjust our programs so that they continue to advance safety. It is a bit early for WANO to be working on these changes right now, but we will do so as we understand new reactor types in greater detail. We have begun to conduct what we call ‘design-informed peer reviews,’ which seek to identify areas for improvement in the context of a plant’s design. Such an approach will help us to accommodate significant design changes such as those in Generation IV reactors.

EJ: New digital technologies such as wireless workers and monitoring are being deployed in nuclear plants. What are your views on these changes, and how can R&D help?

Prozesky: I am an advocate for these ‘intelligent’ technologies. The new generation of workers has grown up in a connected world and is familiar with digital technologies. Tools such as handheld devices for delivery of field instructions, plant component identification, and work management offer huge potential to improve human performance.

Research is needed to investigate concerns about radio frequency interference in older plants. We also need to carefully consider cyber security when digital control systems are being designed.

But we must never lose sight of the fact that success in our industry is the result of many things in addition to a robust plant design—such as good leadership, a skilled and engaged workforce, a healthy safety culture, a commitment to continuous improvement, and an effective regulator.

For more about WANO and how it achieves its mission, go to www.wano.info.

Artwork by Craig Diskowski/Edge Design